As we strolled through the Botanic Gardens of Peradeniya near Kandy, we couldn’t help but feel fortunate to be in such a beautiful place. The sun shone brightly, and the lawns were so green and well groomed. There weren’t too many people either. Apart from a snap-happy crowd of Chinese women staking out the Avenue of Palms, we almost had a tree each to ourselves. The Double Coconut palm from the Seychelles (producing the world’s largest seeds), the Pride of Burma, the Java Fig Tree, and Cook’s Pine. The trees – like the tourists – seemed to come from all over the world.
There are no monkeys. The keepers scare them off because they would damage the plants. The same with the elephants. They would trample the greenhouses. And greenhouses are important here, for the Orchid House hosts a fine collection of tropical orchids.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t see the lake, designed in the shape of Sri Lanka, because it had been drained for maintenance. All the memorial trees growing around the Great Circle however were still in place. Each of them had been planted by someone famous, dignitaries from Sri Lanka and India, and also one more modest tree by Earl Mountbatten of Burma.
Then walking back from the Mahaweli river, we came to the giant bamboo. These rose twelve or more metres tall. And as we took photos, showing how high they were, Sujan wandered over and explained how bamboo grew up to thirty inches a day.
“It’s the fastest growing plant.” He smiled mischievously, as usual making it difficult to know if he was telling the truth or pulling our legs. “In fact, so fast, they used to use it as torture during the war, tying someone down, and forcing it to grow through their body.”
We didn’t want to believe him. Not on such a nice sunny day, in such a lovely place. But then as we stared at the bamboo, how its shoots towered above us almost penetrating the sky, it was possible his tale contained a seed of truth.